Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Project: Quiet places, busy places

Busy traffic

Photography allows us to see the unseen as demonstrated by the images of human traffic patterns and flows.

I've always been fascinated by the flow of the human traffic. It's been one of my favourite subjects to record with my camera.

Earlier this summer I made a visit to the Borough Market in London which offered me a great opportunity to watch the tidal flows of the market customers and onlookers. A small selection of  images from that visit was included in my previous blogposts and I am sharing one photo from the same visit below.

Perhaps, one disadvantage of the market as a setting for this type of image is the lack of any proper elevation points to observe the crowds from above. There is only so much you can see from the ground level! Still, this is a wonderful place to observe and record the patterns of the human traffic flows.

Bear in mind that using a tripod is essential and if you have a tripod on you, you will be approached by the watchful market wardens who will ask you to leave if you don't have a permission to photograph.

Image 1. London Borough Market

Another opportunity to observe and record the human traffic flow presented itself during my visit to Oslo.

Oslo has some wonderful museums and here is a photo of my personal favourite place to visit.

The Viking Ship Museum is located on one of Oslo's islands and features a specially constructed building to house a real, full size Oseberg Viking long-ship.

I loved the feel of the museum and was appreciative of the fact that the museum wardens did not seem to mind me taking photos.

I was also pleased to find an elevation point which allowed me to take some photos of the crowds flowing around the boat. It made the whole scene look and feel alive as if not just the waves of the visitors were embracing the boat but the boat itself was silently and slowly sailing through the crowds.

Adding to the mystery of the scene, the wall-mounted lights made the ceiling look greenish - I reduced but decided against removing the tint altogether in Photoshop as I thought it suited the setting.

Comparing images 2 and 3, the image 2 gives us a better understanding of the setting as we are able to see more of the museum building itself. It shows us the nature and the function of the building;  is it easy to see from the photo how and why the space was thought through and designed in a very particular way. I think it also better shows the interaction between the visitors, the ship and the building itself even though the people's figures appear to be rather shadowy and blurred.
It is interesting to notice that in my mind and memory, the photo had much stronger associations with the impermanence and the transient nature of things than the actual experience of observing the scene!

Image 2. Oslo Viking Ship Museum

Image 3. Oslo, Viking Ship Museum

My next set of images was taken on a busy afternoon at the Liverpool Street Station. Using the Aperture Mode of my camera allowed me to play with and vary the exposure time and the depth of field to achieve some different effects. I also varied the focal length to get the desired composition. 
ISO was set at 50. 

Image 4: The blurred lines of people's walking were achieved with a 4 sec exposure at f20.
In this shot I focussed on capturing the intense gaze of the man with a box and the flow of people around him and at the background. 

My lesson of working on these images is about the importance of observation and spending time finding out and understanding the ways in which the human traffic flows.    

Image 4. Liverpool Street Station

With images 5 and 6, I was trying to pull back to capture a large number of people waiting for the announcements on the ground floor of the station.

Whilst observing the crowd of people from above, I found that some things about their behaviour were making me feel uncomfortable. For example, I found it unnerving to see so many people standing still and intensely looking in one direction - there was something very unnatural about that. The fact that all these people were turned away from the camera was also very uncomfortable. I decided to capture this whilst varying the amount of movement within my images.

Image 5 has only some hints to the movements within the crowd whilst Image 6 shows the patterns of the movements quite clearly. It is also full of the ghostly "half-present, half-gone" imprints and traces of the human figures amongst those few who stayed still and so were fully exposed. These ghostly images could be brought to life even further using the tools of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom - more on this is in the follow-up exercises...

The exposure makes all the difference between Image 5 and 6: the first image was exposed for 3.2 sec whist the second required 6 seconds exposure. I used a 30 mm lens for these photos.

Image 5. Liverpool Street Station

Image 6. Liverpool Street Station

Finally, a few more images to illustrate my additional learning points.

The best way to show the human traffic flow is by contracting it against the stillness of the surroundings. This works equally well with the groups of people who stand still. Whilst on this assignment, I was constantly screening the setting in search for any small groups of people who were chatting away so to capture them against the flow of the people around them. Images 7 and 8 illustrate this point.

Image 7. Liverpool Street Station

Image 8. Liverpool Street Station

My next lesson is all about the timing: there are lulls and surges of the human traffic and at times the station appeared almost empty. To capture the human traffic, it is important to be there at the right time!
Image 9. Liverpool Street Station

One more lesson: it helps to look for patterns of colour as the results can be fascinating - see the example below.

Image 10. Liverpool Street Station

Finally, consider the black and white where it fits the theme. These ghostly shadowy figures looked more like bopping and washed out blotches of colour before I desaturated this image.  

Image 11. Liverpool Street Station

A variation on the human traffic theme (below) was shot in at the Bullring Shopping Centre in Birmingham. This time the flow was created by the moving escalators rather than walking people.

With the Image 12, I composed the shot to make the space for the three different escalators moving in opposite direction. I made a few shots and then chosen the images with most attractive combination of colours/ contrast. I also wanted the still advert to be featured in the shot contrasting against the movement around it.

Image 12. Bullring SC, Birmingham

With the Image 13, I zoomed in on a smaller section of the escalators and made a faster exposure to get more defined figures of people. On reflection, I still prefer the first shot as it has more purpose to it.  
Image 13. Bullring SC, Birmingham

Finally, with the image 14, I pulled back to show the wider setting. We are able to see the people spilling out of the shops on the floor below and queuing up for the escalators as well as the blurred colourful flows of the human traffic stretching up and down the image frame. 

From the technical point of view, it was easy too execute the images in Bullring. The lighting was bright and stable, the human traffic patterns were highly predictable, the escalators' speed was consistent and so was the flow of the human traffic. There were no lulls at all, just a constant stream of people's movement - up and down, and down and up, crowded, stifling, mindless. Oh, the insanity of the shopping culture! May we wake up from this great delusion! 

Image 14. Bullring SC, Birmingham

Monday, 8 September 2014

Project: Quiet places, busy places

A single figure small -II

Thinking further about the impact and the meaning of a single figure small, the selection of images below helped me to analyse this in a variety of different settings.

In image 1, there is a sitting figure featured inside a cathedral. It is positioned at the lower right quarter of the image and blends in quite well with the tonal range of the surroundings. This means it is quite possible to miss it at first and only realise it is there when following the rows of chairs towards the well-lit up altar at the back of the image.

The image would certainly look and feel differently without any people present, equally it would have a different feel if there are a lot of people captured in the shot.

The presence of the figure and its positioning within the frame certainly makes an impact though I wonder if it might also introduce an element of a cliche, leading the viewer to a certain way of perceiving this image.

Image 2: I could not help and had to take this photo - the opportunity attracted me as it showed a small figure facing a large cruiser ship passing by. To make the impact even more significant, this person seemed to be standing on a single rock perched out of the water and was surrounded by the sea.

To emphasise the scale of the cruiser ship I made sure that the tiny specks of human figures dotted around its deck area are included in the picture.

I positioned the man's figure at one of the cross points of the frame's grid to make the full use of the rule of thirds.

It won't be easy to miss the black figure as it stands out so well against the blue sea water all around it.

The single figure makes a strong point here - without it the interpretation of the photo would be totally different.

I think it is quite light and humorous and it makes me think about the human as the Creator, the world we made for ourselves and the human vulnerability of facing the man-made technological miracles and devices.

Image 3 present us with a slightly different setting.
Here we observe someone sitting on a wooden decking boards outside of a building, facing away from the camera and looking out at the sea.

Similar to the previous two images, the figure is quite anonymous - it would be difficult to make many assumptions about the person as they are too far from us and we don't see their face.

Again, observing the rule of thirds I dropped the figure to the lower left corner of the image. The lines of the decking areas and the outline of the building on the right hand side lead the viewer's eye to the man's figure making it difficult to miss it.

When taking the photo I could not help noticing that the person's reflection was missing from the window reflection. This made me think about the impermanence and how things sometimes don't seem what they are and how our reflections do not always match our perceived reality. So, for me as the creator of this image, the human figure was one of the decisive elements of this picture. I hope it plays a certain role for my viewer too.

Finally, the image 4 present us with a moody and foggy summer night scene. Once again we are by the sea, there is a building on a right hand side of the image and a small dark figure positioned slightly to the left. The figure is dark and very small. It seems insignificant, lost in the fog and the darkness of the night. It is easy to miss, though its relative darkness makes it stand out against the grey and lit-up background.

The person is moving away from us and we can track the line of the street lights along the route that they seem to follow.

In this image the figure seems so insignificant, merely a punctuation mark lost in a vast and dark space. Nevertheless, it is there to play a very important role - it connects the different elements of the image together. For some, it might perhaps bring a conclusive meaning or simply add a point.

Some conclusions from this exercise:

- A single small figure can make a significant impact, draw a point, and add a meaning to your image. Think carefully what it is you are trying to say and why you need it in the picture.

- In terms of the composition, its positioning within the frame is important so think where you want it to appear. The positioning could change the dynamics of the image.

- Contrast plays a role here as well - how easy or hard is it to spot? Use darker or lighter background to set the figure against it.

- it is worth to know and plan the movement of the figure (if it is moving) - is it moving in or out of the frame? Change the composition accordingly.

- Practice, practice, practice - things become more natural and faster with practice.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Project: Quit places, busy places

A single figure small

What do you feel and sense when facing a vast space?
What do you feel and sense when you spot a single small figure moving through the vast space?
What do you feel and sense when looking at an image of a single small figure moving through a vast space?

There is a viewer.
There is a single small figure moving through the vast space.
There is someone who captured the image of a single small figure moving through the vast space.

What do

Is it a mere punctuation?
A speck of dust
Lost in the vastness of space?

Does it make you feel lonely?

Do you think about the man and the Universe
Your life
Or the life without you?

Does it move you
Leave you indifferent?

Is there a sense of
Breaking free

Is there a feeling of

Does it call for your attention?

Does it emphasise, highlight or make a point?

What is the point?

Monday, 21 July 2014

The many uses of a humble shed

1. A poolroom in a garden shed 

Name: The humble garden shed 
Characteristics: modern; permanent; small size; private
Former functions: a shed
Current use: a pool room 
Main functions: enjoy a game of pool and a drink 
Why do people visit: chat, play and relax.

2. An engine shed 

Buildings in Use: work of others

Whilst preparing my coursework for the assignment 3 I came across many interesting photographic portfolios that gave me inspiration.

I wanted to share the links to some of them here:

Fernando Guerra -

Eddy Joaquim–-eddy-joaquim/

Rus Blees Luxemburg

Simon Kennedy

Friday, 18 July 2014

Learning visit: Digital Revolution, July 2014

As part of my studies for the assignment 3 of People and Place I recently visited Barbican to see this exhibition. 

Described as 'the most comprehensive presentation of digital creativity ever to be staged in the UK' (source: the exhibition was a fascinating place to watch people interacting with technology and space.

It was interesting to notice that:
People had very different approaches to the space around them
Were attracted to different things 
Had their own unique way to connect and explore what was around them.

I took some photos to capture some people during their moments of play and exploration. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Buildings in use: Exploring how space changes with light

For this exercise I selected two locations: my log cabin in my back garden and my village church.

The log cabin

I set my camera on the tripod and left it in one place for a number of days taking photos at different times of day and night. This resulted in the following set of images.

These images were taken at different time of day and in different weather.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Buildings and spaces: User’s perspective

One of the key learning points from the previous exercise was about the importance of the users’ perspective in determining or re-shaping the functions of a building or space. This lead me smoothly to the theme of the second exercise which is all about the user’s point of view.

For this exercise I visited a number of places choosing those that are designed for a particular activity that is usually undertaken from a specific position or angle. I also looked out for any venues that might be designed for a specific type of user (whereby it would be necessary to use a non standard angle or position to capture their viewpoint).

My first visit was to a village vet surgery on a quiet afternoon.
When taking the photos I was trying to imagine what the place would look like from a dog’s point of view. We don’t know exactly what the dogs see but what we do know is that they see less colour (colour blind to red and green spectrum). Taking this into consideration I changed the colour balance of my images in the Photoshop.
A vet reception on a quiet afternoon must be a very boring place for dogs as there are no other dogs or people to say hello to. No wonder that our dog friend captured in the image is looking out onto the street. When taking this image I pretended for a moment to be another dog trying to image what it would be like from a dog’s point of view.
I thought that the second dog that is looking through the camera lens would be keen to get as close as possible to the dog captured in this picture. So I got next to the brown dog and got low on my knees to get the same level of view.
I also looked up for some information on the internet about dogs’ vision as I wanted to understand if we know how they might see the world around them. I found some article and adjusted the colour scheme of the image to match the descriptions in my internet sources (links included below).

A quiet day at the village vet 

My second image was taken at a local sport club. Sport activities, especially those that require a team or an opponent to participate, are the classic examples of the situations where a user’s position is strictly prescribed. Whilst getting ready to take this image I positioned myself at the far end of the badminton court serving box. I assumed a suitable posture / position and pressed the shutter button. I chose a wide-angle lens for this image because this is how I tend to observe the playing area around me during a game of badminton. I would usually keep an eye on the opponent but at the same time try to observe a wider picture. I think that the angle may differ depending on the activity. In some cases, such as ten pin bowling it might be more appropriate to use a medium telephoto lens to truly capture the filed of view of a player.

One thing I would like to have done to make this image more interesting is to capture an image featuring the opponent across the court. Unfortunately this opportunity did not materialise at the time but I think it would have definitely improve the image.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Buildings and spaces: exploring function

Preparing for the assignment
For this exercise I chosen London Borough Market. From the point of its function a market is essentially a place to buy and sell various goods. In case of Borough Market the goods on offer are mostly fresh and farmers’ produce, as well as food and drink.
Before venturing out on my image-hunting mission I made some notes reflecting on why people come to Borough Market.
My main observations were:
·      People come here to shop and buy fresh (originally mostly farmers’) produce
·      People come to snack or enjoy a quick drink. There are no places to seat and eat immediately at the market so the majority of people who buy some food move around and eat on the go or chose to sit in one of many restaurants and cafeterias on the fringes of the market.  
·      Local office workers also come to grab some lunch. You see a lot of them spilling out on the streets from the nearby office blocks and small tucked away offices. They usually move away quite quickly, apparently wary of the crowds.  
·      People come to sell their produce. The Market houses a lot of traders and as the goods on offer are no longer limited to fresh foods and farmer’s produce, the traders come from all cultural, ethnical and professional backgrounds.
·      People also come to look around, browse and soak up the atmosphere of the market. In this way, it is an experience – of being in London and being a part of it. The Market is often used as a meeting place and is popular with people watchers, tourists, photographers and all sort of idle folk with time on their hands.
The list above shows that there are many different aspects to the place which main function could be described simply as a place to sell and buy fresh food and snacks.

Another question I considered is who are the main users/ audiences on the Market. I came up wit this list:
Traders - Residents of London and visitors
Shoppers - Residents of London and visitors
People watchers and tourists.

I found this exercise useful and something that is definitely worth doing every time before a photo shoot as it helps not to miss important things when on location. It is all about thinking though in advance which elements or aspects of a subject would be important to capture.

Thinking about how well these functions are fulfilled, I think that the popularity of Borough Market is the best answer – it is a great place that fulfils everyone’s expectations and is such an enjoyable experience for people who come and visit.

How is this to be reflected in the images? Perhaps, through the use of colours and possibly through capturing the variety, the liveliness of the place and the sense of the flow and the constant movement of people.

Thinking about the elements that I would like to capture I would perhaps like to show the surroundings (the old railway bridge) to give a sense of the history and tradition. Finally, each visit to this market for me has been in some way a magical experience and I would like to have this feeling expressed in one of my images depicting the market. This is a personal challenge and I am aware that it might not fit exactly within this assignment which requires only one photograph of the place.

Practical reflections on working on this assignment

When I arrived at the market, I first had a walk around to take in the whole scene and get the sense of it as well as to refresh my memory of the available space and its dynamics. Because the market is stretched over both sides of the railway bridge it does not seem to be possible to capture it in one go (unless it is a stitched panorama or a collage made up of many different images). However, I don’t think it would be strictly necessary if we are aiming to convey the sense of the place.
Sometimes an image of a small part tells you a lot about the whole picture that was left outside of the frame. Whilst walking around the market I identified a few potentially suitable spots.  My greatest disappointment was the lack of elevation as I thought it would be ideal to take some photos from above to convey the scale of the place and to show the movement of people through the rows of stalls.

When taking photos at the market it is good to be aware that there are a lot of people here who are constantly moving around.

It is also good to be aware of the authorities present at the site – the best approach is to let them know in advance as there might be some restrictions on how photography is carried out (especially important if a tripod is to be used) and if it is allowed. Generally speaking, it is possible to take photos at any market but other public places such as railway stations and airports might require a permission to be issued in advance.

Comments on the final image

I selected this image as the final image for this assignment because I think it:
Shows how the space works and convey the main function of the market with a customer and a trader facing the camera and engaged in the process of trading interaction.

The figures of some other people on the background highlight the fact that this is a busy place with many customers and onlookers present.

I wanted to reflect the flow of the market and the people and this has been done by increasing the exposure time to give the background figures and fast moving subjects a slight blur.

The emotions showing on the faces of the trader and its customer are the ones of enjoyment, lightness and content. It was my aim to show some positive emotions on people’s faces as the market is a colourful and vibrant place that gives a truly uplifting and positive experience to its many visitors.

Depicts the location of the market well: we see the underbelly of the railway bridge which serves as the market roof. A careful observer could also get some hints to the long history and tradition of this market.

Additional images from the final selection

Friday, 28 March 2014

Project "Public events, public spaces"

If you ever find yourself short of things to do on Boxing Day and wishing you could do something different from the usual 'family lunch and walk' set routine, head for Grantchester. I won't be the first person recommending this, the Guardian got there first! Here is a link to their 'Where to go bonkers on Boxing Day' articles where Grantchester Barrel Rolling is mentioned:

Grantchester Boxing Day Barrel Rolling dates back to 60s and is very popular now.The event is well organised and is fun to attend. There are teams from Grantchester and the nearby villages competing for the prices and the day ends with a jolly celebration in the local pubs.

Why not come next year to see for yourself?

This set of images is from the last Barrel Race - all images were shot with my Canon 5D Mark II and a choice of zoom lenses with focal length ranging from 40 mm to 200 mm.
The day was still and overcast but dry providing almost perfect conditions for photographing people at the race (no strong shadows on faces, manageable levels of contrast).
The whole event lasts about 45 minutes so you have to be quick and ready for action. There are also a lot of people attending so it might be hard to work out the best positions. The races happen one after the other in a fast succession so there isn't much time to think and re-adjust.
The event is a great opportunity to catch some good shots of the races but also the people watching the action - Grantchester is a great spot for people watching as it draws in a lot of interesting and eccentric characters.

I took many shots trying to vary the angles and my position. I am including a selection of images below with some commentary.
My aim was to create a series of around 10 images that would work together and narrate the story line of this event. To achieve that, I included some general images to show the activity in the context of the place as well as some close-up shots of participants and the viewers. I tried to follow the sequence of the event as much as possible when organizing my collection. I used some black and white images as a link to the long-standing tradition of this event. Some things never stay the same and other things don't seem to change at all - I think that some of these images look timeless and it might be easy to mistake them for those taken many years ago
Image 1.

This general shot gives a viewer an overview of the place, the event and the people taking part in it. It is amazing how much information can be picked up and understood from a single shot! I like the strong sense of anticipation and suspense that the low angle has created. It was taken with a zoom lens set at 60 mm. I chose 1/250 sec setting at F 8 and 400 ISO to compensate for the movements. 

Image 2.

This image brings us right to the 'front-line' and the starting point of the race. Comparing to the first image, it is almost as if you jump from being a viewer to a race participant - the fact that this change is instant helps to convey the sense of the moment when the race starts. To make it real, sharp and active, I chose to keep the colours. 

The image was taken with a zoom lens set at 24 mm, then cropped at the post-production stage. I used 1/125 sec exposure at F 8 and 400 ISO to compensate for the movements. 

Image 3.